Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not for the faint of heart

Of course, we knew that the Reisinger is considered by many to be the toughest event in the ACBL calendar.  But what the hell, Kim and I decided to enter it anyway.  The tricky part was persuading another pair of equally crazy masochists to join us.  Fortunately, Matthew and Doug from Chicago were up for it.  I had assumed that it would be a big event, somewhat similar to the Open BAM earlier in the week, maybe even bigger.  But no, only 39 teams entered. The other experts entered the Swiss.  But in our event, there were more world and national champions per square foot than any place I've ever been!

We were rubbish!  We managed 10 wins out of 52.  Yes, you read that right.  We scored only slightly above 20%!  In baseball, the "Mendoza line" for batting average is .200 but I generally think of the bridge Mendoza line as 30%. We thus achieved almost a super-Mendoza!  We were, obviously, not among the 20 teams to advance to day two.

It's amazing that they allow palookas like us to enter this rather exclusive game, but they do.  I could write up several stories from the day but many of them would simply demonstrate our ineptitude, or lack of  experience at this level of bridge.  Board-a-match scoring adds its own wrinkles to the game too.  Here's a tricky decision I got wrong against Bill Gates and Sharon Osberg.

My hand was ♠KJ8653 976439 ♣T. Kim opened 1 and I bid 1♠ (we don't play weak jump shifts).  Kim rebid 3NT and I made what turned out to be a good decision by bidding 4.  I soon found myself in 4♠, Osberg led ♣A and the dummy that came down was surprisingly good: ♠AT A8AKQJ854 ♣52 (I might have opened 2♣ with this hand, although that could easily work out badly, using up too much room to describe the hand). Sharon continued with ♣K which I ruffed.  I could see immediately that we might have missed a slam if the ♠Q was on side.  Would they be likely to be in 6♠ at the other table?  Gates doesn't play with World Champions on his team but they are very good players.  It seemed to me that, missing a key card and the ♠Q, they would likely stop in 5♠.  In any case if slam was making and they were in it, we'd already lost the board.  What would be the best way to make 5♠?  Assuming our teammates didn't lead a heart, my counterpart would likely play off the two top spades and start on the diamonds, guaranteeing the contract if the spades were 3-2 and making an overtrick if the Q was doubleton.  Of course I had a slight luxury in that I could afford to finesse the Q provided that Sharon didn't switch to hearts if she could win it.  So, by finessing against the Q, I would win if Gates had it.  She hadn't played a heart yet and maybe she wouldn't even then, I deluded myself.  As it was, she had the ♠Qxx and was keen to demonstrate to Gates the "Merrimack coup" by sacrificing her K.  Curtains for me.  I had gambled and lost: down 2.

I think I should have taken the money by making my game on the grounds that if 6 was making and they were in it, we'd lose anyway.  Playing my way gave a 34% chance of making 6 and would make exactly or be down 1 or 2 (depending on the diamond split) if RHO had ♠Qxxx (11%).  But 55% of the time I was down 2 for sure.  Playing to make would result in +450 68% of the time.  I didn't guess sufficiently accurately what was happening at the other table.

What did happen?  Our opponents played in 3NT and our teammates led a club (the good news).  But (bad news) the clubs split 5-5 so that contract was down only 1 and we lost the board.  As it turned out, playing to make the contract (as would be appropriate in an IMP team game) would have worked beautifully.

Here's an example of the kind of play you don't experience too often at the local bridge club.

Kim was in 4♠ with Norwegian World Champions Tor Helness on her left and Geir Helgemo on her right.  The heart suit was AQT3 in dummy and J762 in hand.  Kim led low to the T and it held.  She now had two heart tricks, one ruff already in and the ♣A for sure.  Six more trumps on a complete cross-ruff would provide an over trick, assuming one trump gets overruffed at the end.  After returning to the ♣A, she led another low heart.  What if Helgemo was out of hearts and ruffed in returning a trump?  That would mean only 9 tricks.  So she repeated the "marked" finesse, losing to the K.  The contract could no longer be made.  Helgemo's original holding?  Kx!  Just one more lost board?  Yes, but in fact, Helgemo's decision to duck his K was going to allow Kim to make 11 tricks if she plays all out and finesses the ♣Q in her hand.  So, while it was a brave and, for us, unusual play, it turns out that the guy some believe is the single best player in the world (but ranked #11 by the WBF) actually made an error.  But it induced a matching error from our side and in the end worked very well.  Our two hands were ♠A983 J762– ♣AQT63 (declarer) and ♠Q765 AQT3T852 ♣8 (dummy).

Other notables that we faced at our table: Gitelman/Moss, Levin/Weinstein, Pepsi/Lev, Doub/Wildavsky, Cheek/Grue, Koneru/Chorush, Bocchi/Ferraro and other well-known players.

If we make it to Seattle next year as we hope, I think I'm going to skip the Reisinger and try the Swiss.  There's typically only a few World Champions playing in that event and many more teams overall.  Still tough to qualify but at least within the realms of possibility.

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